A True Story of Sexual Assault (& Why THIS 14-year-old Almost Didn’t Speak Up)

(The following story is true, but the names have been changed to protect my friend and her daughter.)
Pam noticed that her daughter had been especially grouchy lately, but had just attributed it to her usual 14-year-old mood-swings. That didn’t keep Pam from asking, “What is WRONG with you???” after one particularly heated exchange. Her daughter, Ella, surprised her by saying, “Well…something happened the other day and I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Pam and Ella had taken a trip to Target just a few days before and, while her mother was in a dressing-room, a man had groped Ella. She was struggling to understand what had happened and all the horrible feelings she was having as a result. Pam was obviously horrified by this news, and immediately contacted the police and the Target they’d visited.
The assault had been captured on Target’s security cameras, as well as his swift departure in a van, but they were surprised by what else they found.
He had assaulted someone else. A 12-year-old girl had also been his victim that day, and she hadn’t spoke up.
It’s easy to imagine why she didn’t and why it took Ella a few days to tell her mother what had happened. Girls know, from an early age, that accusations like this will turn the spotlight on them. They know that proof will be necessary and that they might have to come face-to-face with the person who did this to them. Young women are also well aware that accusing someone of sexual assault will lead to countless uncomfortable conversations and could bring unwarranted negative attention back on them.
This is why they often choose NOT to speak up.
It’s also why the same man had been driving around and assaulting young women at other stores.
Because he was getting away with it.
Pam and Ella have worked through the weeks that followed together, with Pam doing everything in her power to shield her daughter from the spotlight. They aren’t excited about an upcoming court appearance, where Ella will have to talk to a judge, but they will be happy to see justice served and to put this chapter behind them…as much as they can.
This is why we have to start encouraging young women (and young men) to speak up. We have to remind them that sexual contact without consent is “sexual assault” and that those who commit this crime need to be prosecuted. We need to address any potential questions our kids might have about sexual assault because it could happen at any time and in any place.
Most importantly, we need to reward those who DO speak up, like my friend’s sweet Ella. I wish I could use her real name so she would know how proud I am of her, and of the strength she showed just by speaking up. She didn’t realize it that day, but she was speaking up for several other young girls, who didn’t have the strength to do it for themselves. Thank you, Ella!

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